Colorado Cottage Foods: A Recipe for Entrepreneurship

Some of Colorado’s best home cooks are making their specialties available directly to consumers, while offering up a side helping of economic growth.

From local festivals to weekly farmer’s markets, nothing brings a community together like food. Learn how Colorado’s wonderfully diverse culinary landscape and its growing cottage foods industry has created the perfect recipe for home cooks to turn a talent for making jams, cakes, and other goodies items into thriving kitchen-based businesses.

In this episode of CSU’s Community Voices series, learn how CSU and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have partnered to provide trainings and other resources to help aspiring cottage food producers turn their kitchen hobbies into thriving businesses. Bon apetit!

Read More: Colorado Cottage Foods

Some of Colorado’s best home cooks are making their specialties available directly to consumers, while offering up a side helping of economic growth.

Nothing brings a community together like food. From local festivals to farmer’s markets, we all love an opportunity to see, smell, and taste Colorado’s wonderfully diverse culinary landscape. Now, thanks to the growing cottage foods industry, you can bring many of those unique flavors home. 

While most foods sold in Colorado must be prepared in a commercial kitchen, in response to growing interest, Colorado in 2016 adopted the Colorado Cottage Foods Law that allows the sale of certain homemade foods directly to consumers.  

Those homemade items, known as cottage foods, provide an avenue for home cooks and bakers to turn their talents for making jams, cakes, or other eligible items into business ventures. This can be an attractive avenue to entrepreneurship for many Coloradans, particularly those in rural areas, who are looking to generate additional income for themselves and their families.

“This is not a rich town,” Pauline Benetti, Manager of the Pagosa Springs Farmers Market said.  “There are a lot of people who could use a little extra income. And the way I sell it is I say, “Why not? You love to cook and work on canning, you can do that in your own home and you can make some money if you get your cottage food certification.” 

Easing Into Entrepreneurship 

According to Nicole Clark, CSU Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, a key benefit of the cottage foods movement has been to allow people to explore the food business without having to make a huge commitment.  

“That commitment could be relative to their time or their resources,” she said.  “Because the Colorado Cottage Foods Act allows people with some basic food safety training to essentially produce foods in their home and then sell to the public, they are given that opportunity to see if they like producing their eligible food item on a little bit larger scale and see if they have an affinity for being an entrepreneur.” 

For Alisa Buselli, cottage foods offered a pathway for pursuing her passion for making high-quality chocolates.  She long had an interest in selling her homemade chocolates but was unsure how to navigate the various laws and regulations associated with commercial food production. “I found the cottage food law, which allowed me to continue making the product from my home kitchen with rules that were attainable,” she said.  “And that made it easy for me to actually continue making this product and offer it for sale and offer it to the community.” 

For some home cooks, the cottage food industry provides an opportunity to share unique cultural specialties with a broader consumer audience, according to Erin Jolley of the La Plata Food Equity Coalition. 

“We talk to some informal business owners who cook for their families, they cook for their friends, within their own cultural community, and they aren’t sure how it’s going to be received in the larger, wider, broader community,” Jolley said.  “I could see this definitely, as a way to open those doors, test out the market and see what the desire is and to branch out culturally.” 

Supporting Start-Ups and Ensuring Food Safety 

Colorado State University partnered with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to create a training curriculum that provides cottage foods producers with information about the food safety practices that they would need to follow to ensure public safety, and also to help them understand what would be considered an eligible cottage foods product. The training also guides aspiring food entrepreneurs in their initial steps as they become a cottage foods producer.  

“This partnership is ongoing,” Clark said.  “We consistently work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as well as the Local Health Department to make sure that the public is safe and that community members have an opportunity to try out a new business.” 

At the Durango Farmers Market, Manager Melanie McKinney Gonzales said she and her team encourage a diverse array of cottage food vendors, realizing that both customers and food producers benefit from the variety of products offered. 

“We have a number of cottage food vendors, and they love the market because they are able to try out and test new products and new flavors,” McKinney Gonzales said.  “When they come to the market, they have a built-in customer base, that already loves exploring new products, that already loves supporting local vendors, and offers that feedback to them.” 

Learning as They Grow 

By starting with a small market, cottage food producers can limit their overhead costs, experiment with products and learn as they go.  An important part of that lesson is developing business skills separate from their cooking talents. 

“I would say that that is probably one of the most challenging aspects for most producers is to not only develop their production skills, but also develop their business skills, which would allow them to successfully grow,” Clark said.  

“I’ve thought about what it would look like to have a big business, and I’m not sure if that calls to me,” Chocolate maker Buselli said.  “But when we’re working with cottage law, we can do it on a small scale. And so it gives us the opportunity to really be able to work with what we have and still make a product and still offer it to the people. It gives us grace to move slowly, gives us grace to be able to really hone in our skills and create the product that we want to bring to the people with limited resources.” 

As a cottage foods producer grows their business, they can expect some of the same challenges that anyone going into business might experience, whether it’s deciding how to upscale, develop marketing and a host of other challenges.  But with support from state and local resources, as well as Colorado’s growing cottage food network, a promising hobby can quickly turn into a thriving commercial success.  

“I would really love to get the word out that there are already folks on Main Street that got their start here with us,” McKinney said.  “Our market can help these up-and-coming businesses and food producers to have a built-in customer base and get that brand recognition to make the next step. We’re sad to see them go, but we’re so excited that we have been able to contribute to that fostering of those businesses, more food products, more local food products in our community, and just the economic development that it provides our town.” 

In the meantime, cottage food producers like Buselli say one of the best rewards comes from the experience of sharing something they care about with appreciative customers. 

“It’s been really important for me because I’ve been able to get my product out to people,” Buselli said.  “I’ve had a lot of pride in being able to source amazing ingredients and give that product to people. And when I meet people at the farmer’s market who are like, thank you for doing this and see me for what I’m doing, it feels so exciting.” 


Cottage Foods: How to Get Involved

If You Are Thinking About Producing Cottage Foods

    Support Cottage Foods Near You

    • Look for cottage food products in your community. You’ll often find them at community events, fairs, local businesses and local farmer’s markets. 
    • When you see cottage food vendors, ask about their products and where they come from. Most producers have a lot of passion for what they’re doing and great stories to tell.